Global Innovation Exchange Plans Menu of IP Options for Students

The Global Innovation Exchange, a joint effort of the University of Washington and China’s Tsinghua University, is establishing some new models for intellectual property as it begins training what backers hope will be a new generation of innovation leaders.

Graduate students in the program who invent a technology or launch a startup company will have three options for ownership of the underlying intellectual property—but none of them accrue directly to the universities.

The first 10 GIX students—one from the UW and nine from Tsinghua—have already started in the program, studying in Beijing. They participated on winning teams in the inaugural GIX Innovation Competition, a recently completed international business plan contest that served as a preview of the interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum planned for the graduate program itself. One winning team built a prototype mobile air filtration system. Another created a low-cost glove to be used as a virtual reality input device.

Vikram Jandhyala, the UW’s vice president for innovation strategy and co-executive director of the GIX, says the new intellectual property models recognize the unique nature of the GIX.

The program has major corporate backing—$40 million from Microsoft—and an open door to other corporate and institutional partners. But he does not expect GIX students to be building on the kind of innovations that come out of UW’s federally funded research enterprise. (Universities have had the right to benefit from IP resulting from federally funded research since the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act.)

“It’s really about new ideas being developed at GIX,” Jandhyala says. “So we don’t see this as a financial IP engine for [the UW], but we certainly see it as benefiting the overall ecosystem.”

Jandhyala

Jandhyala

(Jandhyala will discuss modern approaches to technology transfer with other experts on Thursday at Xconomy Intersect in Seattle. Discounts are available through Tuesday. Get your tickets here.)

Jandhyala says students will choose from “a menu” of IP options. One is a shared, open license, allowing anyone to build on top of the IP. This is designed for technologies that could form the basis of a developer community, for example.

The second is purely student-owned IP. Undergraduate students who invent something as part of their educational experience at the UW now would, in most cases, retain rights to their IP. But for graduate students, who are often employed research assistants attached to a university lab that receives federal funding, “they’re probably not going to be the sole owner of that IP,” Jandhyala says.

Giving the graduate students in the GIX ownership of the IP is meant to be an inducement, signaling to prospective students that the GIX will be a place to get an education, but also maybe to form a company. “That is pretty new,” he says.

A third option would assign IP developed at the GIX to a sponsoring company. Jandhyala says the GIX is recruiting a consortium of companies, and nonprofit foundations, that might contribute “a couple hundred thousand dollars a year” to “get IP, access to students, get some of [their] longer-term research problems solved, or even build prototypes” for company ideas, he says. The UW has similar sponsored and collaborative research arrangements with companies such as Boeing.

Applications to the GIX are being accepted through Jan. 31 for another 60 seats in the first cohort, which will begin a 15-month Master of Science in Technology Innovation program at a new building under construction in the new Spring District of Bellevue, WA, next September. A second dual-degree program from the UW and Tsinghua is also available. (An information meeting is planned in Seattle on Dec. 13.)

Applicants will be evaluated on normal metrics such as GPA (minimum of 3.0), standardized test scores, English proficiency, and software coding experience. But they will also be interviewed via Skype and asked to talk about a project they’re excited about, what drew them to it, and what they learned. Admissions staff will assess applicants’ capacity for teamwork, learning from failure, openness to new ideas, and communication skills.

“It’s really about that innovative mindset,” Jandhyala says. “We’re trying to see how much of that is already there, especially for the first small cohorts.”

Those qualities are important to the program because of its lofty goals: “What we are trying to build here are what we call innovation thought leaders,” he says. “These are students who, once they graduate, are really creating a movement around innovation, whether it’s becoming the head of a skunkworks in a big company, or they’re building a startup.”

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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